26 sept 2011

Tarahumaran Tesgüino

Tesgüino is a corn beer made by the Tarahumara Indians of Sierra Madre in Mexico. The Tarahumara regard the beer as sacred, and it forms a significant part of their society. Anthropologist John Kennedy reports that "the average Tarahumara spends at least 100 days per year directly concerned with tesgüino and much of this time under its influence or aftereffects".
The general Tarahumara term for an alcoholic beverage is "Sugíki"; "batári" is used when the beer is specifically made from corn or lichen flour; "paciki" is used when the beer is made from fresh corn stalks. While tesgüino made from corn is considered the most sacred, the Tarahumara also make beer from agave and wheat, as well as other alcoholic beverages made from fruits such as peaches, berries, crab apples, cactus fruits, and Mesquite seeds.

From the NPR Radio Programme:
For the Tarahumara, the astringent, homemade corn beer is a sacred social lubricant — and during Easter week, or "semana santa," the entire town of Norogachi turns into a giant brewpub. Corn kernels are soaked, ground up, boiled and spiked with a local grass to help the mixture ferment.
The Tarahumara (who refer to themselves as the Raramuri) are a linguistic group of 120,000 who share a common language and have preserved their culture through isolation and resistance. For them, beer is an elixir for healing, a barter item and a divine beverage.
"God taught the Raramuri how to make corn beer," says Guadalupe Espino Palma, the traditional governor of the Norogachi district. "We make offerings of tesguino to God himself, and He drinks it also. We use tesguino for dancing, and we enjoy drinking it." Even getting drunk is a spiritual act, he explains.
Bill Merrill, a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist who's spent 30 years studying and working with the Tarahumara, says the tesguino chases out the "large souls" within, leaving only the "little souls." "And so when people get drunk that's why they act like children," he says, "Because the souls that are controlling their actions are the little souls, like little children."
The Raramuri also believe they are God's chosen people, and that their mountain home is the center of the world. In their colorful parades and festivals, they freely use Christian iconography to represent the struggle between the Raramuri and the outside world.
Still, the outside world is slowly creeping into traditional life — looking for work in the cities, modern comforts can be seductive. "It's easier to get drunk on a couple of beers or a bottle of tequila than to make tesguino and share it with everyone," says Carlos Palma Batista, director of the Raramuri Education Initiative, a Ford Foundation project to help preserve native language and knowledge.
The Easter celebrations of the Raramuri are a big draw for tourists. By custom, participants will drink, dance, drum and carouse for as long as the tesguino holds out, whether two days or two weeks. Spring planting will wait.
And during this corn beer communion, in place of "happy Easter," the Raramuri will say to one another "bosasa" — "fill up, be satisfied, be contented."

  • 8 quarts water

  • 1 pound germinated corn

  • 2 cups brown sugar

  • 8 whole allspice or cloves

  • ale yeast

How to prepare it:
To germinate corn, soak 2 pounds of corn in cold water for 24 hours, then transfer it to a colander for germination. Spray cold water on the corn and turn it in the colander twice a day to prevent it from drying out or getting moldy. Within 5 days, the corn should have germinated to the point that sprouts have reached 2 inches in length. When they do, remove the corn from the colander and allow it to dry in the sun or in the oven on its lowest setting.
Crush the corn coarsely then place it in the brewpot with the water and let it sit for 1 hour.
Bring the wort to a boil, then add the sugar.
Reduce the heat and allow the wort to simmer for 3 hours stirring regularly.
Add the spices at the and of the boil and allow the wort to sit for 1 hour.
Strain the wort into a fermenter once cool and pitch the yeast.
Ferment at 65º-70ºF for 5 days, then rack to a secondary and allow to ferment for 2 more weeks.
Bottle with 1 teaspoon corn sugar per bottle for priming and allow to condition for 2 weeks before drinking.

© Text and image: www.npr.org, Wikipedia, Stephen Harrod Buhner's "Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers" (Siris Books, 1998)

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